Domestic Violence in Literature

Novels featuring abusive men are painful to get through, but there is something to be said for reading them.

When treated fictionally, one sees the horrible abuse problem on a visceral, dramatic level — whether the problem is physical abuse, sexual abuse, verbal abuse, or all three. We might see why it happens (though there’s never a legitimate excuse), how the victim is affected, whether the legal system gets involved, and more. And if the abuser gets his comeuppance, that can be very satisfying.

Heck, fictional abusers get that comeuppance more often than real-life abusers (though not always). After all, some novels are partly vehicles for wish fulfillment.

This is a topic I have some personal experience with, given that my late father unfortunately was often verbally abusive and sometimes physically abusive. So I bring those memories into the reading of certain novels, as do many other people with their own painful memories.

Last week I finished Amanda Moores’ Dream Palace, and central to that 1994 novel is a young woman who becomes infatuated with a macho, handsome, charismatic diver (when he works). Though the warning signs of abuse are there (as is often the case) and Laurie barely knows Jim, she impulsively agrees to his offer of marriage.

Then the verbal harassment and physical blows begin, along with ultra-controlling behavior. How the initially meek Laurie finds some backbone to deal with all that is a major focus of the eloquently written book by Ms. Moores, who happens to be the wife of this blog’s regular commenter jhNY.

(Some of you may recall a 2015 post in which I discussed Ms. Moores’ later fictional work, the emotionally riveting Grail Nights, which focuses on a New Orleans bartender named Sheila who has a small role in Dream Palace.)

Another compelling novel featuring domestic violence is Stephen King’s Rose Madder — in which low-life abuser Norman is scarily a police officer. The oft-beaten Rose Daniels escapes the house and boards a bus to a new place — after which husband Norman seeks her out. Will Rose fight back? You’ll see if she does as the novel turns into a mix of realism and the supernatural.

The Jack Reacher character is a human fighting machine but also feminist in his way, so it’s no surprise that some of Lee Child’s novels — including Echo Burning and Worth Dying For — include vile abusive men who draw Reacher’s wrath. Readers will cheer when Jack socks the (rich) abuser in the latter book.

Buchi Emecheta’s novel Second Class Citizen stars Adah, who maintains her ambition and resilience despite various obstacles that include being physically abused by a husband who also cheats on her.

In Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, Celie is abused by her father — a parental outrage that probably also happens to the Mayella character in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.

And Margaret Atwood’s iconic dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale — now a TV phenomenon — is of course about domestic violence writ large as women are denied their rights and the fertile ones are forced to bear children.

Here’s a list of many other fiction books that apparently contain domestic-violence content.

What are the some of the most memorable novels you’ve read on this topic?

My 2017 literary-trivia book is described and can be bought here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest weekly piece — which has a Harry Potter theme! — is here.

107 thoughts on “Domestic Violence in Literature

  1. I completely tally – novels about domestic violence are very unmanageable to take through, but can suffer a irrefutable shock when they’re well written and exact. And, yes, domestic violence, like early(a) kinds of violence, can apparent in dissimilar ways — some more recognisable than early(a)s — and some novels do a better job than early(a)s in making that exonerated.

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    • Well said, gumersindo! Thanks for the comment!

      Literature featuring domestic violence can indeed be hard to get through, but is really important to read. Hopefully, authors handle the topic skillfully and sensitively.

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  2. I think it’s so important to talk about domestic violence, but it’s more important not to glorify or glamorize it. It’s a terrible thing to experience, and people, both men and women, need to know the warning signs to look for. I know from experience how difficult it is to get out of an abusive relationship. Victims need to know that they’re supported during this time, otherwise the prospect of leaving can be too terrifying.

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    • Eloquently said, becomingbeautifultoday. VERY important “not to glorify or glamorize” domestic violence — which, as you know, should always be condemned. So sorry you’ve experienced an abusive relationship. Support for victims is indeed crucial.

      Thank you for commenting.

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  3. The idea you share is very interesting. It is possible that the depiction of domestic violence in novels have in fact further perpetuated a world in which domestic violence is existent but not entirely recognised and almost normalised by the storyline. Similar to notions of rape – where the wider public often doesn’t realise that multiple kinds of actions can constitute rape – the many actions that cover domestic violence are also not fully recognised. It is possible that the normalisation of these actions in books and movies have further fuelled the misconceptions as to what domestic violence really is.

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    • Thank you for your comment, speaknowbreakthesilence! Very well said, and I definitely see your points. A number of novels probably (to an extent) do normalize domestic violence (which should NEVER be normalized) as well as other kinds of violence. But I think other novels show domestic violence for the horrible thing it is. And, yes, domestic violence, like other kinds of violence, can manifest in different ways — some more recognizable than others — and some novels do a better job than others in making that clear.

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  4. I completely agree – novels about domestic violence are very difficult to get through, but can have a positive impact when they’re well written and accurate. One novel I would add to this list is called, “It Ends with Us” by Colleen Hoover. As I survivor of domestic violence, I wasn’t able to get through the whole book because it was too triggering. The parallels between the my abuser and the character were very unsettling (both were even neuroscientists). But it does realistically portray all stages of abuse – from the beginning when everything is perfect to when the abuser erupts in full blown violence. There are so many aspects of abuse that outsiders don’t understand or know about (I know I didn’t know about any of this before my abuser) and I applaud authors for taking on the challenge of writing about this topic. And thank you for highlighting all of these books and making them easily accessible.
    Wish you all the best – speak766

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    • Thank you very much for your comment, speak766, and for sharing your difficult experience. You certainly would read novels containing domestic violence with different eyes than many people. “It Ends with Us” does sound like an accurate/downbeat/intense book.

      Wishing you the best, too, and thanks again!

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  5. Oops. I think I entered this on the wrong post. Meant to put this under ‘Illustrations in Literature’. I will try to re-add it there. Dave, if you wouldn’t mind, go ahead and delete this one. Sorry everyone. Thanks!

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  6. Lisbeth Salander in the Millennium trilogy by Steig Larsson, was a survivor of severely abusive childhood by her father. Surviving of a traumatic childhood she became anorexic, asocial .She is particularly hostile to men who abuse women, and takes special pleasure in exposing and punishing them.
    Also she would risk her own life for her loyalty to some who have shown an once of kindness toward her.
    She was declared socially incompetent but in the end was proven to be sane and competent.

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    • Great addition, bebe, and a great comment! I can’t believe I forgot to mention Lisbeth Salander, though I guess I was focusing more on spousal abuse than parental abuse. Lisbeth is a memorable, admirable, complicated character — and Stieg Larsson’s trilogy is absolutely riveting.

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      • That man was sexually abusive too and also Lisbeth`s guardian as well .
        What they put out came back to haunt them and Lisbeth was the survivor eventually but the untimely death of Mr. Larsson we will never know if she ever was loved back by Mikael Blomkvist with whom she fell in love with.

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  7. It isn’t fiction, though parts may be fictional: Benvenuto Celinni, Florentine goldsmith and sculptor, wrote an autobiography, in which,as one of his earliest memories, he refers to the sudden appearance, at a bonfire, of a salamander on a burning log. Cellini’s father, standing beside him, struck him, explaining that he hit him so as to fix the memory in the boy’s mind forever. Whatever else one might say about the event, one thing is clear: Cellini never forgot.

    (It was commonly believed in Cellini’s time and before, that salamanders were born in fire.) From wikipedia: “The salamander is also mentioned in the Talmud (Hagiga 27a) as a creature that is a product of fire, and it relates that anyone who is smeared with its blood will be immune to harm from fire. Rashi (1040–1105), the primary commentator on the Talmud, describes the salamander as one which is produced by burning a fire in the same place for seven years.”

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  8. Not pertinent to the week’s topic, except insofar as bullying and threatening and verbal abuse by our president has left too many of us with Stockholm Syndrome and/or a fierce insistence that obvious abnormality is normal, lest we have to face the gravity of the hour.

    Having just finished reading the transcript of trump’s NYT interview, I can report:

    The President of the United States is mentally unfit for office, or even walking around loose. There is nothing more central, nor will there be, to any discussion about his doings or ramblings.

    Reading ABOUT the interview is actually a means of misdirecting oneself, as there is no way to reproduce the truly frightening effect of the incoherent, meandering word salad via summation or editing.

    If he lasts in office four years, we won’t.

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  9. Hi Dave,
    A couple of books sprang immediately to mind. The first was Lionel Shriver’s riveting “We need to talk about Kevin”. There is SO much abuse in that book that it’s hard to know where to start. Kevin himself has… troubles. But his parents aren’t black and white characters when it comes to abuse either. Particularly his mother who I thought was wonderfully written.

    Stephen King’s “Gerald’s Game” was the next to come to mind. It’s mostly about an adult woman who has WAY too much time on her hands, and flashes back to being sexually abused by her father. It’s kind of a weird abuse as she doesn’t seem to mind. But as an observer, you know that what is happening is not right. I don’t think I’ve read “Dolores Claiborne”, but I think I do remember reading that characters from both books have a weird crossover meeting during an eclipse.

    As for real life abusers, I’m not sure of the accuracy, but I have heard that Lewis Carroll’s “Alice” may have been inspired by something a lot more icky than the innocent character appears.

    Lastly, on a kind of lighter note, Harry Potter is definitely not treated well by his extended family after his mother and father are killed. The abuse is awful of course, but Harry has lots more fun getting them back than some of the other victims discussed here!

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    • Thank you, Sue! Four excellent examples, well described! (I haven’t read the first two, though I’ve read other Shriver and King novels; I’ve read the two “Alice” books and the seven “Harry Potter” ones.)

      Like you, I’ve read that Lewis Carroll may have had an unhealthy fixation on young girls in general and the model for Alice in particular. And, yes, Harry was seriously abused (verbally, psychologically) by the Dursleys (his uncle, aunt, and cousin). As you observe, Harry had the magical powers to VERY satisfyingly get back at that threesome — though, being the nice guy he was, Harry could have taken a lot more revenge but didn’t.

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      • The twin poles of child worship and sexual repression made for a psychological milieu in the 19th century that is mostly foreign and unsettling to us today, as evinced by such as Lewis Carroll, JM Barrie and John Ruskin. But I believe that, at least in the lives of Carroll and Barrie, that there is little reason to believe anything we would recognize as sex was ever attempted with the children to whom each was over-attached, or that in Ruskin’s case, even after marriage to his much younger bride, was ever consummated.

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          • Reading over the Poe bio in wikipedia, I find small, and I do mean small, consolation: though he obtained a marriage license in 1835, when she was 13, the only known ceremony of marriage between them occurred a year later.

            They remained married– 11 years– till her death by tuberculosis, and had no children. Nor do I find any note of miscarriage, etc. He might well belong on my list above…

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            • I guess 14 is a tiny bit better than 13, and the marriage did last, but still a queasy thing. And maybe Poe was too busy drinking and writing to do much of anything that would potentially make him a parent…

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        • I hope you’re right. And of course, abuse is about a lot more than just sex. It’s often an abuse of power, and involves a lot of fear. So if these guys have no bad intentions (even if it is a bit icky) and the child has no fear, then I guess it’s a bit different from what we today call abuse.

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  10. Pap versus Huck was a mismatch of weight, height, age and overall viciousness, so I think “Huckleberry Finn” needs to be added to our string of examples of domestic violence in novels.

    Also, as ultimates in domestic violence, I cite three myths out of ancient Greece: Chronos, Proctis and Itys, Medea. It is important to note in this context, that WC Fields in “Tillie and Gus” was entirely kidding (and scripted) when, in “Tillie and Gus” he was asked if he liked children, he answered: “I do if they’re properly cooked.” Chronos was more primitive in his appetites, as Prometheus had not yet brought fire.

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    • Yes, when it came to abusing kids, the alcoholic/impoverished Pap was a nasty/pathetic figure.

      Which indirectly makes me think of Jodi Picoult’s novel “My Sister’s Keeper,” in which the sister of a sick girl is basically conceived and raised for medical purposes (to help the sick sister). A form of kid abuse? It’s complicated, but yes.

      Shades of “A Modest Proposal” in your eye-opening second paragraph!

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      • “My Sister’s Keeper” sounds a bit more unsettling and thought-provoking than I’d voluntarily tackle just now, though it does of course bring on the question of why any of us are here generally, which I think Vonnegut has answered well enough for me.

        Yes, re that Swift essay. he was, of course, the recipient of a good education, and thus, was steeped in the classics.

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          • Dave, as you know, I thought “My Sister’s Keeper” was an awful book for many reasons. As you say, it was well done, but it had the most horrendous ending of any book that I can remember, and I threw it out in the trash. Not that I always expect to have a happy ending (see Beth in “Little Women”), but even Picoult said that her son wanted a different ending, and she did change it for the film version.

            GOOD NEWS! My piano arrived yesterday and it’s just gorgeous. It’s amazing how much I’ve forgotten about notes, chords and scales, but I’ve got a lot of books to help me get through this. It fits perfectly in my bedroom as though it was always meant to be there, so I couldn’t be more pleased!

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            • That “My Sister’s Keeper” ending was indeed a clunker (with my car reference being deliberate).

              And, yes, many novels have unhappy conclusions — but those conclusions have to feel right. Jodi Picoult’s ending did not. Glad it was changed for the movie.

              Kat Lib, MAJOR congratulations on your piano arriving, and the perfect way it fits into your abode!

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              • Thanks, Dave! I’ve been thinking about “Sense & Sensibility” and how Marianne, after a brush with infection and near death, decided that she would spend her days getting up at 6:00 a.m. and divide her days between reading and music. I’m now thinking about such a scheme myself, though with a few more variables, such as watching news and spending time with friends and my dog.
                I’d mentioned “Little Women” above, which reminded me of the scene in that book in which Amy gets punished in school for trading limes. She is hit on her hand 3 times with a ruler by her teacher, if I remember correctly, and made to stand in the corner the rest of day, which was humiliating for her. Marmee made the decision to pull her out of the school, though she had to join Beth for lessons at home. It made me think of Bill, who went to Catholic schools and being disciplined by the nuns cracking a ruler on his hand. Thank goodness that practice seems to have stopped in all schools, whether public, private and Catholic.

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  11. I don’t believe all alcoholics are domestic abusers, though many are. But this post reminds me of the book “Alcohol and the Writer,” by Donald W. Goodwin, which describes the rampant alcoholism among many Nobel literature laureates, raising the question of whether booze helped or hindered their output. It’s a 1990 book but still worth a read.

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    • Thank you, Bill!

      “I don’t believe all alcoholics are domestic abusers, though many are” — I’m sure you’re right about that.

      And, as you note, many famous writers have been alcoholics. Whether that helped their writing or not is indeed open to debate (I don’t think it helps), but booze certainly reduced some of those writers’ output — because they died young or relatively young, a la F. Scott Fitzgerald.

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      • Trouble is: we can never know whether or not such drinking authors would have written anything better, or even at all, had they not been the compulsive imbibers they were.

        It’s like conjecturing about Charlie Parker, alto sax genius. He played like no other had before him, and changed the course of jazz both harmonically and rhythmically. On some of his live recordings, it has been claimed one can hear whether or not he has overindulged in a stimulant or a sedating substance for the set- he seems to have adjusted his embouchure or fingers according to each.

        But nobody knows what he might have sounded like unaddicted. Maybe he’d have gotten a steady job, stayed clean in Kansas City MO and occasionally, in the evening after work, listened a little while to music on the radio.

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        • I’ve read a lot of early Stephen King, back from what a lot of people call his ‘drinking days’. I haven’t read a lot of his newer, sober stuff, but what I have read, I haven’t loved. I think maturity probably has more to do that with that. Having a family and a career and other grown up responsibilities may have changed his passion for writing; or maybe he did write better when he was sloshed!

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          • Sue, I guess there’s also the matter of when an author writes as much as Stephen King has for decades, newer material may be somewhat less fresh, repeat previous themes, etc.

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          • I am reminded of how much actual humor remained available to John Cleese after therapy: less!

            On a soberer note, I think most of the writers of fame who drank to excess were not in their cups while they wrote– it was just all the rest of the time.

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            • Interesting about John Cleese. I guess a more “together” person can often be a less funny person.

              And, re your second paragraph, I suspect you’re right. Alcoholic authors may have tried to write when drunk, but their output was probably second-rate.

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                • As the daughter of an alcoholic, I can definitely state that he never abused my mother or any of us six kids. Not that there weren’t tensions or any other problems, but I’d assume they would happen in just about any family. He passionately loved my mom and us kids, and though we butted heads several times in my growing up years, he would get over it all very quickly. He was an electrical engineer, who worked for a large roofing company, and invented two pieces of machinery that was important to those in the roofing business. It drives me nuts that he wasn’t able to take advantage of that, because the company he worked for got the patents. Not that I care about any money, though he should have gotten more recognition.

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                  • Kat Lib, very true that most alcoholics are not abusers, but it’s possible that there are a higher percentage of abusers who are alcoholics than non-abusers who are alcoholics.

                    And a real shame that companies/corporations have often not given inventors in their employ enough recognition, credit, money, etc. Sorry that happened to your father.

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  12. Boxing the ears– pummeling the ears of the abused with fists– was, before the 20th century, a common means of discipline, usually visited on children, but there is in literature at least one instance between lovers– in Wuthering Heights, when Heathcliff inflicts himself in this manner on Catherine.

    Beethoven’s father habitually beat young Ludwig in this way, and it has been cited as contributing to his loss of hearing in the latter part of his life. Then there’s Anton Chekhov, as mentioned up the thread by elenapedigo, whose description of his own early home life includes:

    “My father began to .teach’ me, or, to put it simply, to beat me when I was less than five years old. He thrashed me with a cane, he boxed my ears, he punched my head and every morning, as I woke up, I wondered, first of all, would I be beaten today?”

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    • Yikes! A painful but informative comment, jhNY.

      Thankfully, those forms of cruel corporal punishment are less prevalent in many societies today — though of course people continue to find all kinds of ways to inflict harm on each, as in the scarily gun-saturated United States.

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        • Wow — VS Naipaul sounds like an absolutely disgusting human being.

          Another abuser (I think) was Norman Mailer. If I’m remembering correctly, he even shot at one of his wives.

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          • Mailer, as I remember, went at his wife with a knife, with at least momentary ill intent, possibly at, or after, a party at which he served himself many drinks– I don’t think she suffered serious medical injury, but I may be wrong.

            You’re likely thinking of William Burroughs.

            William Burroughs, in a similar state in Mexico (as was, I think, she), killed his wife in an impaired attempt to shoot a glass of water off her head a la William Tell, only with a pistol, according to his original account to authorities there. Later, he amended his tale to a more mundane accidental discharge of firearm, for which he was given a suspended sentence down there. It may or may not be pertinent to recall that he was an heir to the Burroughs Corporation, manufacturers of adding machines.

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            • Oops — you’re right. I should have done a Google check on that Mailer incident before posting my previous comment.

              That Burroughs incident sounds absolutely awful. It probably IS pertinent that he was an heir to a lot of money; the rich certainly get treated better by the criminal-justice systems of any country.

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              • Billy Bennett wrote, in “She Was Poor But She Was Honest”, a music hall song of the 19th century:

                It’s the same the whole world over,
                It’s the poor what gets the blame,
                It’s the rich what gets the pleasure,
                Isn’t it a blooming shame?

                Bizarrely, perhaps, the first time I remember hearing this song was during an episode of Perry Mason. For the first and thankfully only time during the entire run of the original series (271 episodes!), Raymond Burr played two roles, the first being Perry Mason, natch, but the second was a hard-drinking, quarrelsome sailor sporting a clumsy approximation of a Cockney accent, which he employed in the declamation of this song.

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  13. Turgenev’s novella “First Love” contains a crucial scene of domestic violence, if an affair can be said to fall under the category of ‘domestic’ (I’d argue that it does, in the context of the marriage as a whole) : a father working his will by riding crop in his final meeting with the young woman with whom he has carried on an affair, who is also, frustratingly, the object of his son’s misplaced affections. Upon receiving the blow, she kisses the resulting welt. Chilling.

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      • I guess, when considering this piece of fiction, my attention has been taken up by the widening realization of the young man– that there are things in this world that cannot be imagined in advance of experience, lurking just under ordinary social norms and expectations. But, yes, I see that power relationships, who really has power to act, and when, are at the core of “First Love.”

        I believe you may have linked us here a few weeks ago to “Cloud Trousers” by Mayakovsky. Thanks again! There is a book of his poetry in my future.

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          • I have no language but English, though in order to be monolingual, I had to forget all the Spanish I learned during a year in Colombia as a small boy, which according to my parents, was considerable.

            I read a translation of the poem, and will be again, once I order a book of his. Is there a translation/collection that you recommend?

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            • I have to confess I’m mainly familiar with Mayakovsky in the original, and I don’t know of any recent translations off the top of my head, other than an unpublished one that was recently circulated amongst colleagues on a listserv, so I’d say just get what you can! It won’t be as good as the original, but Mayakovsky is surprisingly translatable–his wordplay actually allows you to do equivalent things in English.

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                • I was wondering because I’m obsessed with Mayakovsky and used to read his poetry constantly but I don’t normally bring him up with the non Russian crowd.

                  The translation is quite good, although of course it doesn’t have the driving rhythms of the original. Here’s a few seconds of Mayakovsky reading a different poem out loud, if you want to hear how his work is supposed to sound. He wrote it to be performed to large groups and it needs to be declaimed. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=f8cU_0RcS5s

                  As for domestic abuse, Mayakovsky was involved in some pretty sketchy relationships but was not, as far as I know, abusive towards anyone other than himself. His contemporary Sergei Yesenin, to whom Mayakovsky wrote a fabulous poem after his suicide, was another story, however, and was probably abusive towards his wife Isadora Duncan, both physically and by reading his famous poem about a dog whose puppies are drowned to her to her when she was feeling depressed about the deaths of her children by drowning. I’ve never been able to warn to Yesenin because of that.

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                  • Thanks for the link!

                    I do, from that recording, get the sense of proper setting for his poetry. Mayakovsky sounds, to my ear, as if he is declaiming before a large group.

                    Yesenin does seem to be a deeply unpleasant sort, given his choice of reading material and the context. I am not surprised, fresh from my sojourn to his bio on wikipedia, that the marriage to Duncan lasted only a year.

                    While I have your attention, I hope you will not mind if I ask you for another opinion on an entirely different poet and an entirely different poetry:

                    Do you have a favorite collection of Osip Mandelstam translated into English?

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                    • Hmmmm…I’m embarrassingly short of suggestions, since I don’t normally read poetry in translation, but here are a couple of ideas. My favorite of Mandelstam’s collections is Tristia and it looks like you can access the entire thing for free in a rhymed English translation on lib.ru here: http://lib.ru/POEZIQ/MANDELSHTAM/tristia_engl.txt

                      I just perused a bit of “The Selected Poems of Osip Mandelstam” (New York Review Books Classic) on Amazon and it looks like it has a number of his most important poems in decent if non-rhymed translations, as well as an interesting introduction.

                      Translating poetry is always a challenge and translating poetry from Russian into English is a nightmare because, FYI, Russian poetry was and continues to be written largely in rhyme with classical meters, and the average Russian word length is 2.7 syllables, while the average English word length is 1.8 syllables, making metrical and sound equivalencies pretty much impossible.

                      On a side note, related to the topic of abuse, Mandelstam was almost certainly not physically abusive, but he was unfaithful to his very devoted wife. However, he was also heroic and stood up for the little guy: he supposedly confronted some Chekists (KGB officers) when they were talking about signing blank death warrants, and, if I remember the story correctly, snatched up their death warrants and tore them to shreds before, astonishingly, storming out of the cafe unmolested, at least for the moment.

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                  • The thread is maxed below, so I’ll reply here re your comments and link to Mandelstam: sincere thanks!! I have the NYRB collection (same illustration on cover as on D. Tartt’s The Goldfinch) and one other– but I don’t have what you’ve linked.

                    I was so fond of The Noise of Time essay that I sought out his poetry soon after, but I confess I haven’t felt confident I understood all, or even much of what was on the page. I will continue to bang my head against it.

                    Speaking of the NYRB, they have published a fiction collection, “Autobiography of a Corpse” by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky. Incredible!

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                    • Mandelstam is deceptively difficult! He’s not the complete monster of incomprehensibility that Pasternak was, but he’s surprisingly slippery.

                      Very cool to hear about the Krzhizhanovsky. A friend of mine is dissertating on him right now, but I have to confess that my knowledge of his work is rather slight. There are just so many fabulous things to read!

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    • Thank you, jhNY!

      That “First Love” scene does sound chilling, and the book as a whole seems like it has potboiler aspects.

      The only Turgenev novel I’ve read is the excellent/somewhat-more-sedate “Fathers and Sons.”

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  14. WOW!!!

    Thank you for choosing to write about Amanda Moores’ “Dream Palace” for this week’s blog posting. The author is thrilled, and honored, and I am very pleased myself!

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  15. Hi Dave, I don’t have all that many examples. The one that first came to mind was “Big Little Lives,” by Liane Moriarity. This was just made into a TV mini-series, that I haven’t watched because I’d rather remember just the book. It’s discovered that one of the characters (the perfect one) was being abused by her husband. Another one of Moriarty’s books featured triplets (“Three Wishes”), one of whom had been engaged and was actually relieved when her fiancée who abused her was accidentally killed.

    I’ve mentioned before about “Life After Life,”
    by Kate Atkinson, whose main character lives multiple lives then dies and comes back into another life. One of those lives was being abused by a man in her life.

    Sometimes, because film covers episodes more viscerally than books, I was engaged by “Sleeping with the Enemy” starring Julia Roberts. She is terrorized by her handsome husband, and she comes up with a plan to leave him. Granted, the plot was a little far-fetched, but it was well-done and convincing in its portrayal of domestic abuse.

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    • Thank you, Kat Lib!

      Your first paragraph reminded me that I would love to read Liane Moriarty again. Her “The Hypnotist’s Love Story” was excellent. It sounds like domestic abuse is a fairly major theme for Moriarty given that she has revisited it.

      “Life After Life” is prominently on my list as well. Very much intrigued by your descriptions of it today and a while back.

      And, yes, movies can be even more visceral than novels when it comes to depicting abuse. Maybe too visceral.

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  16. Hi Dave .. This is an interesting topic, and you give some wonderful examples. I would add “Dolores Claiborne”, another Stephen King novel which centers around domestic violence. “Flowers in the Attic” by V.C. Andrews is about the abuse of children by their monstrous grandmother. In W. Somerset Maugham’s “Of Human Bondage”, the cruel and cold-hearted Mildred heaps verbal and emotional abuse upon her besotted lover, Philip Carey.

    I’ll be looking forward to the comments.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Pat!

      Excellent mention of “Dolores Claiborne,” which I haven’t read but have heard (as you note) that it’s thematically similar to the “Rose Madder” Stephen King novel I mentioned in the column.

      You perfectly described that VERY problematic relationship in “Of Human Bondage.” (As has also been mentioned elsewhere, abusers can sometimes be female. But physical abusers of course tend to be mostly male.)

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Read the Naturalists of the latter 19th & early 20th Centuries. The Novels of Theodore Dreiser & Jack London are filled with physical abuse that was the accepted norm then. The use of violence to enforce a character’s will on others, especially on those ( I hesitate to say weak b/c many were later revealed to emotionally & psychically stronger than their antagonists) physical inferiors like women & children.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Very well said, Joel!

      And you’re right — naturalist writers such as Dreiser and London (and other authors such as Emile Zola) depicted abuse a number of times.

      Not sure physical abuse was the accepted norm 100-plus years ago, but it was perhaps somewhat more accepted than it is now. Still horrible, of course, back then and today.

      Thanks!

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      • Might makes right was a huge tenet of the Naturalist writers’ fiction. It derived like so much of later 19th Century from the Survival of the Fittest maxim of evolution often wrongfully attributed to Darwin (it was quoted from Herbert Spencer).

        Liked by 1 person

        • “Might makes right” — exactly, Joel! An unfortunate way of thinking sadly still practiced today by Trump and many others.

          And I didn’t know that Spencer predated Darwin re “the survival of the fittest”!

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  18. A book with extremely harrowing scenes of child abuse is Gorky’s childhood, about his own childhood. Sologub’s Little Devil (or Little Demon) also has a number of scenes of child abuse, which was a central feature in his work (he was for it). The Brothers K has a number of abusive relationships in it, and Quiet Flows the Don features some horrifying violence against women, including fathers sexually abusing their daughters. Chekhov, himself the son of an abusive father, also has some grim pictures of domestic abuse, particularly in his “peasant” trilogy “Peasant Women,” “Peasants,” and “In theRavine.” And while not everyone would be inclined to think of army hazing as being a form of domestic violence, the two are similar and often closely related; Babchenko’s One Soldier’s War is rife with scenes of army hazing and it is suggested that the protagonist briefly becomes aggressive towards women as a result.

    I was actually surprised at how few examples of domestic abuse I could come up with in Russian literature, considering how prevalent it is in the culture. Perhaps because Russian literature has always been written almost entirely by men, and what in the West is now considered to be abusive behavior is just considered normal. A student once asked how to say “abusive husband” in Russian. Consultations with native speakers revealed that the word is simply “husband,” something they considered much more amusing than the students did.

    Another significant theme is the way in which older women enforce the abuse of younger women and children at the hands of men. Leskov’s The Storm gave us a term for this: samodurstvo, or literally self-stupidity, but meaning domestic tyranny. Female writers such as Pavlova, Ulitskaya, and Petrushevskaya have all written on that.

    Gosh, what a depressing list! But a very important topic.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fascinating/informative comment, elenapedigo! Thank you!

      From what I’ve read (Russian novels and nonfiction about Russia) and from my 10 days in that country, Russia does seem to be a rather un-feminist place. With many exceptions to that, I’m sure.

      Thanks for mentioning those various fictional works! You are VERY well read in Russian literature. One of the ones I’ve read — “The Brothers Karamazov” — does indeed have abusive relationships, as in the marriage of the father and mother of the three brothers. That dad is a pretty sick guy.

      As for the involvement of women in some abuse, I wonder if there’s Stockholm Syndrome involved. And/or self-protection (so they don’t get abused themselves). Other reasons, too, I would guess.

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      • Haha so I have a PhD in Russian literature and my day job is teaching Russian. So…yeah.

        As for the role of women there, Russian culture is different from Western culture. Women in some ways have a lot more power, and in others are subject to much more abuse. So it’s hard to make direct comparisons.

        And as for the involvement of women, I don’t know if it’s exactly Stockholm Syndrome so much as being caught up in the cycle of abuse and becoming one of the perpetrators. Gorky and Babchenko both describe in detail how they were transformed from sweet, innocent boys into abusers themselves by the abuse they underwent. There have been fewer descriptions of a similar transformation in women (although Petrushevskaya’s Time: Night is an excellent example of the kind of pressures women face), but by reading between the lines, it can be assumed that the same thing happens to them. Women who had been victims of abusive spouses would deliberately turn their own sons into abusers and then scold their daughters-in-law for complaining of the abuse, telling them, “You don’t know what real abuse is like! When I was in your shoes, I was beaten till I couldn’t walk for days!” and things like that.

        Grim but true. For most people, being a victim is the first step to being a victimizer.

        Liked by 1 person

        • “I have a PhD in Russian literature and my day job is teaching Russian” — it shows! 🙂

          And you make a great point about how people who are victimized can turn into victimizers themselves. Not always the case, but unfortunately too often the case. It’s what they know, and perhaps there’s some (conscious or subconscious) element of “if I suffered, I’m going to make others suffer, too.”

          Liked by 1 person

          • Yeah several of the authors I listed above (notably Gorky and Babchenko) had to go through a process of being victimized, becoming a victimizer, and then realizing what was happening to them and becoming advocates for victims instead–but a lot of people become stuck in the “abuser” phase, unfortunately.

            Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, jasonlowellgraves, for mentioning Charles Dickens’ work! I’ve read most of his novels, but that was long ago (in and soon after college), so I’ve forgotten many of the details — including domestic violence content.

      And, yes, women can be the abusers of men, though that’s relatively rare.

      I appreciate the comment!

      Liked by 1 person

    • In the Dickens category, I’d have to award pride of place (which is no place to be proud of) to Bill Sykes, who beat his wife Nancy to death in “Oliver Twist.”

      I doubt there has ever been, over all the years, a reader who was sorry to see that character’s demise.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Great addition to this discussion, jhNY! While many Dickens novels have their light and humorous moments, that author could get VERY serious in showing bad human behavior and huge social problems.

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